HEBER CITY — From the moment he first started running at age 13, Ryan Hall wondered what it would take to become an Olympic marathoner.
Nearly two decades later, he doesn’t have to wonder anymore.
Hall knows exactly what it takes because the 31-year-old California native has represented the U.S. twice (2008 and 2012) as an Olympic marathon runner. In his first visit to Utah, he shared much of what he’s learned from the sport — and how it’s blessed his life — with some Wasatch High athletes and a group of high school running coaches on Monday morning at a park in Heber City.
After taking them through a workout, including his favorite routines, he talked about reflecting on what he needed to reach sport’s biggest stage.
“The biggest thing that I had to have to get myself to the Olympics is resilience,” Hall said. “Getting back up time and time again. In running … it’s not smooth. I’ve had way more really hard, bad races than I’ve had really good races. That’s what makes the really good races special.”
Then he shared with the teens a Bible verse that has helped him weather the ups and downs of sports.
“Though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets back up,” Hall said, paraphrasing Proverbs 24:16. “It’s going to ebb and flow; but it’s going to be worth it.”
Hall and his father, Mickey, were in Utah celebrating Mickey Hall’s retirement from nearly four decades as a teacher and coach. When a local high school coach asked them about holding a small clinic, they agreed to do so free of charge. While Ryan Hall worked out with the teens and a few coaches and local elite runners, parents took Mickey Hall up on his offer to talk sports philosophy under a picnic pavilion.
Mickey talked to parents about how to motivate their kids, when to push and when to encourage. Ryan Hall credits his father, who was his high school coach, with the foundation that allowed him to earn two state cross-country championships, a scholarship to Stanford and an NCAA national championship (5,000 meters), two trips to the Olympics and a nine-year professional running career that includes holding the U.S. half marathon record (59:43).
“He’s the one who got me into the sport, and he’s always encouraged me,” Ryan Hall said of his father. “He’s been my training partner, friend and coach.”
Ryan Hall said he’s benefited from great coaching throughout his life, and cautioned the young runners and their coaches about trying to copy his formula for success. Every runner is different, he advised, and each must find what works for them.
While the sport can be grueling and unpredictable, Mickey Hall said it is also the best way to help transform lives.
“Running is a discipline that helps turn (athletes) into better people,” he said. Mickey Hall cautioned the group to keep both success and failure in perspective.
“There are always more important things that running,” he said. “And if you’re not encouraging someone on your route, you’re making a mistake. This life is about relationships. It’s not about winning.”
Ryan Hall said he lives by two principles — love God and love other people.
“The accomplishments don’t follow us into eternity,” he said. “But the relationships we built, the people we’ve influenced, that lasts. And that’s where our focus should be — on our relationships. When you’re running as teams, become a family, encourage each other. … It’s such a blessing to be able to do what we do.”
Ryan Hall said his father’s advice is the basis for the career he’s built.
He shared those tidbits of philosophy throughout the morning as he told the runners what his training routine looked like, how he feels about nutrition and how he views competition.
He asked his father to speak to the group before they took off on a mile and a half warm-up jog near the Wasatch County Fairgrounds. He said he ascribes to the “inspiration before perspiration” philosophy.
Ryan Hall said he’s learned from experience that encouraging others to do their best helps him as well.
“I found as I was encouraging people, it was actually lifting my spirit,” he said of going from 40th place to 10th place in the Beijing Olympic Marathon. “It wasn’t my best day ever, but encouraging people really helped me along the way out there.”
Both men talked a lot about perspective and why it allowed one to enjoy the journey regardless of the outcome.
“To find fulfillment in running, fulfillment in life, it cannot be based on comparison,” Ryan Hall said after having lunch with the group. “At least that’s what I’ve experienced. Even comparing myself to myself … it always leads me to frustration, always leads to depression and not feeling good. … That does not mean you can’t compete. As my dad said, ‘Competition is not about beating other people.’ It’s about me pushing myself, me getting everything out of me that God put inside of me. And I can do that every single day, whether I’m feeling good or not. I can always give 100 percent of what I have that day. I can’t always get a personal best, but I can always give my best. I think that’s the most fulfilling way to run. I think that’s the most fulfilling way to live.”
Wasatch senior Josh Collins said he was grateful to the Halls for their time.
"I learned a lot about just keeping your focus on being your best rather than beating other people," he said. His teammate, senior Bronwyn Taylor, admitted she didn't know who Hall was before Monday's workout and lunch.
"It was amazing," she said of the experience. "He was really inspirational. It's cool how he's such a good person and a good runner, and it made you really think about things. I learned running is a blessing and helping other people is a tenfold blessing."